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Zainab Bangura meets Evelyn Amony

18 June 2016 at 02:44 | 1774 views

Madam Zainab Hawa Bangura Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict on Thursday June 16 participated in what she described as "a very distressing workshop" titled Women and Girls in Conflict: Learning from Lived Experience to Inform Policy Responses.

She was asked to deliver a statement on " Taking a long - term View", on the particular needs born of wartime sexual violence. At the workshop was Evelyn Amony (seen in photo with Madam Zainab Bangura) who was abducted at the age of 11, spent nearly 11 years inside the notorious and dangerous LRA group of northern Uganda and becoming a forced wife to Joseph Kony and mother to his children.

Evelyn has been able to tell her story and ordeal in a book: "I am Evelyn Amony, Reclaiming my life from the Lord’s Resistance Army".

" I admire and respect her strength of character, her sheer drive to share her story and her determination and commitment to not only reclaim her life but to be a voice for all those around the world who have been victims of this crime and those who continue to be victims," Zainab said.

Below is Madam Zainab Bangura’s statement at the the workshop:

Remarks of SRSG Zainab Hawa Bangura Workshop on Women & Girls in Conflict: Learning from Lived Experience to Inform Policy Responses.

Madam Moderator, Ms. Mary Page,

My co-panelists and sisters, esteemed author and activist, Ms. Evelyn Amony, Ms. Ketty Anyeko, Ms. Virginie Ladisch,

Distinguished participants, good afternoon.

I would like to start by thanking the organizers of this timely and inspiring workshop: UN Women, the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Liu Institute for Global Issues, and our host, the Government of Canada.

It is often said that for women, war is not over when it’s over.

After the struggle to survive the bullets, bombs and blades, comes the struggle for healthcare, childcare and employment; for justice and reparations; and for the right to participate in the political, economic and social life of the nation that is rising from the ashes of war.

In this context, many women describe being twice victimized: once by violence, and again by a justice system that trivializes their trauma, and silences their stories.

The particular trauma of wartime rape leaves lasting physical and psychological scars that endure long after the peace accord has been signed, and the guns have fallen silent. The consequences echo across generations. They live on in the children born of war, who may number among the thousands in the aftermath of protracted conflict, yet who remain in the shadows: marginalized, undocumented, and often stateless.

The Concept Paper for this workshop notes that between 3,000 and 8,000 children are estimated to have been born as a result of wartime rape in Northern Uganda alone. But this is by no means unique to the Ugandan conflict. It is a pattern that traverses all cultures and continents, regions and religions, throughout the long sweep of history, as part of the legacy of war.

Children born of wartime rape are today living in Bosnia, the DRC, Rwanda, Kenya, Colombia, Nigeria, Mali, Syria, Iraq, my own country Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. Yet, due to the deep social stigma, the issue is chronically under-reported, and, as a result, under-resourced and rarely addressed.

These children are often viewed as “bad blood”: both a painful memory of the past, and a threat to the community’s future. It is as if they are “born guilty”: tainted by their father’s crime.

Children born of rape by rebel militias in the DRC face cruelty and punishment, being considered like “ticking time bombs” that will ignite grievous harm. These children are often maligned by their own mothers, and at risk of abuse, even infanticide. As Evelyn writes: “You see how heartbreak manifests in the way a woman treats her children”.

As Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I hear – every day – the harrowing stories of survivors of wartime rape. I have held in my arms babies born of war – including many who have been abandoned and orphaned as the living, breathing reminders of brutality.

The weapon of rape is consciously used to shred the social fabric, unraveling kinship ties. The shame of sexual violence turns victims into outcasts. Where their biological origin shows in their physical features, children fathered by “the enemy” can be sentenced to a lifetime of whispers, finger-pointing, and social exclusion. In Rwanda, the school curriculum was revised after the genocide to include discussion of children born of rape, to offset peer discrimination and harassment.

As Evelyn’s memoir shows, a child’s future may be jeopardized by the lack of a paternal clan identity. Without this, a child risks being excluded from land inheritance, which is not only a vital economic resource, but also a symbol of rootedness and belonging. The result is to disrupt and fragment the social structure across generations, by reducing their prospects for marriage and for raising a family of their own.

With scant education, skills, or social ties, such children may have no other opportunities than those presented by the armed, criminal and extremist groups that fuel unrest. As Evelyn writes: children can be used like “the small sticks for making fire”. Marginalization, and the lack of a social safety net, can place them at heightened risk of forced recruitment or radicalization, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of violence.

The plight of children born of wartime rape is both a human rights issue, and a security issue. It demands a survivor-centered, rights-based response that includes efforts to restore peace and the Rule of Law.

Justice for these crimes is critical. It tells the community that what happened was not the victims’ fault. For most war crimes, this would seem self-evident. But sexual violence is the only crime that stigmatizes the victim, rather than the perpetrator. Formal accountability can lift this stigma and shift it to the accused – not only in the eyes of the law, but in the eyes of the local community as well.

In countries where women are denied the right to confer their nationality upon their children, displacement and family separation can leave many children unregistered, stateless, and left in a legal limbo. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women gives women the right to transmit their nationality to their children. This right must be respected, even in the midst of war.

Indeed, women’s rights don’t end when wars begin. Displacement does not displace their basic human rights and aspirations.

I believe that the best way to support children born of war is to support and empower their mothers. At the same time, it must be recognized that these children are not just the consequence of a human rights violation; they are the holders of human rights themselves. Therefore, in addition to the sexual violence lens, the issue should be viewed through a child-protection lens, with corresponding policy and programmatic responses to their needs. This includes access to identity documents and services, in a way that does not further isolate or ostracize them.

As Evelyn’s biography shows, for women and girls abducted and enslaved by armed groups, it is a long road home.

And returning home is not the end of the journey.

After all they have endured, many survivors of the LRA, ISIL, Boko Haram, and other groups, face the additional heartbreak of being shunned by their own family and community. Reintegration support is therefore imperative. We must not only “bring back our girls”; we must bring them back to an environment of support and opportunity. We must not only make our “invisible children” visible; we must ensure that their plight and rights are understood and addressed.

To this end, mobilizing the moral authority of progressive religious and traditional leaders can help to change social norms. In the wake of the Bosnian conflict, a fatwa was issued by an Islamic authority stating that children born to Muslim women as a result of rape should not be stigmatized. It emphasized that the community had an obligation to protect and integrate these children.

Another critical strategy is to invest in grassroots women’s groups, to foster community resilience and counter the radicalization and recruitment of youth. The voices and “ground truths” of survivors like Evelyn Amony should be heard, heeded, and amplified. Such personal testimonies can build a historical record for a crime that has been omitted from official accounts of war and peace.

After the tragic episodes of the Aboke girls of Uganda, the Chibok girls of Nigeria, and – behind the headlines – the hundreds of other girls abducted from their schools and homes with impunity, one thing is abundantly clear: Either we learn from this history, or we are doomed to repeat it.

For our part, my Office will continue to report on these issues to the Security Council; we will continue to “blacklist” in an Annex to our public report the LRA, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, and any other group that uses women’s bodies as battlefields and to call for action; and we will continue to work with religious and traditional leaders, as well as the media, to combat stigma and raise awareness.

I know that progress is possible, even in the most difficult situations. In the wake of over a decade of conflict in my homeland, Sierra Leone, I saw women come together to forge networks, build peace, and launch businesses. Some of these ventures were so successful that former-combatants, who had once terrorized them, came to work for these women!

During the civil war, rebel groups known as the RUF and the AFRC, became infamous for rape, sexual slavery and forced marriage. Many of the girls they abducted gave birth to children conceived through rape.

In our darkest moments, I thought we would never know peace again.

When the war finally ended, the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established. It delivered the first international conviction for the crimes against humanity of sexual slavery and forced marriage. I testified as an expert witness on the experience of “bush wives”. These convictions sent shock waves through the judicial system and the whole of Sierra Leone. They did more than merely set a legal precedent. They changed our national discourse on rape. It was justice and reparations that helped turn victims into survivors, and gave rise to healing and hope.

I am hopeful, because I believe that the past decade has seen greater progress to combat rape, as a tactic of war and terror, than the rest of human history combined. The latest policy development is the declaration by the United Nations General Assembly to designate the 19th of June the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. This is an occasion to stand in solidarity with the survivors, and pay tribute to those working on the frontlines, in nations torn by war.
Wherever war rages, there is rape. And wherever there is rape, there is trauma, pain and terror.

And yet, all over the world, I see women working for peace. It is time to make peace work for women. That means addressing the scourge of sexual violence, forced marriage and forced maternity; combating stigma and victim-blame; prosecuting the perpetrators; delivering justice and compensation to the survivors; and ensuring a brighter future for their children.

Only then can we, as women, say that war is over.